Team Comment - Comments from Alai - November 14, 2001
As I sit here in my office, listening to the whirring of my computers, a smile is inching across my face. Every time I get a spare moment to think about what’s coming up for UO I get all a-tingle again. This is no small feat, as I’ve been working on it for three and a half years now. I’ve survived T2A, Renaissance, and Third Dawn – I am a seasoned veteran. Nothing should faze me anymore, and there certainly shouldn’t be anything I could get excited over. Right?

Well, I’m excited. The upcoming releases are going to knock your socks off. We’re going full-bore with content, new models, new spell effects, new sprites for the 2D players, new audio… a lot of stuff. Tack onto that the huge leaps and bounds we’re making in improving the clients and I am simply astounded. Of course, the client is where most of my interest lies – being the Lead Client Programmer now, so that is where I shall focus my thoughts.

The upcoming client patches are going to have lots of goodies for the 3D client, somewhat less so for the 2D client. I should note that this is not because we have less interest in the 2D client, but because the 3D client has greater potential – and has a greater need for improvement. I decided this “Comments” post would serve mostly to share my excitement with the rest of you, so I’ll just delve into what we’ll be releasing “soon”:
  • We have taken an initiative to wipe out the bugs in the Party System and started with the clients. The Party System will be more stable and pleasant to deal with than ever.

  • Several aesthetic improvements will be coming to the Third Dawn client soon. This includes mip-mapping to reduce “noise” in textures, a fix for a problem with alpha maps on the wings of dragons and the like, as well as some fancy text rendering code. These changes result in a greatly superior looking Third Dawn client.

  • Our 2D client is getting a “Quick Menu” of its own.

  • The Third Dawn client is getting support for more fonts. Different fonts will be used all over the interface, and can also be selected by the player for in-game chat.

  • Both clients are getting a new interface for acquiring help and information regarding playing Ultima Online. This will be a searchable, cross-indexed font of useful information players can access in the game. This system will launch with a less than complete data set, but we’ll be filling it in rapidly.

  • The ability to switch from full screen mode and back again in real time has been added to the Third Dawn client. Players can also resize their Third Dawn client window as big as they like – limited only by the ability of their video card.

  • We have also added several performance enhancements to the Third Dawn client. The overall frame rate is up, and zooming in your view will yield an even greater frame rate – very useful at banks.

  • Players will soon benefit from indicators on the Shard Selection screen of both clients which will relate the amount of latency and packet loss between them and the Ultima Online shards.
  • All this, and more which I’m going to keep under my hat for the time being! The client is slowly undergoing a progressive overhaul to create a more stable, faster game-playing environment. This is due to all the people who work on the client: Greyburn, BulldoZ, Indy, Jalek, FierY iCe, and myself (Alai). That’s a lot of people working hard to improve the quality of just the client alone, with more on the server. Ultima Online has a long, glorious future ahead of it. I hope you stay with us – or you’ll miss the best of it!

    Special Addition:

    Every time I check up on the boards, I see at least one post where somebody could use a quick review of some of the special interface features of the Third Dawn client. So here it is:
  • If you can’t click on something because it’s too small, or buried under other objects, press and hold Shift and Ctrl down to bring up “Object Handles.” You can drag/click/target these things like you could the actual object. If one Object Handle is obscuring the one you’re after, right click on it to get rid of it and dig your way to the item you were looking for.

  • If you hold down Shift when you drag a stack of items, it will pick up the WHOLE stack without being prompted about how many you want.

  • Similarly, if you hold down Alt and Shift when you drag a stack of items, you’ll only pick up one.

  • The Third Dawn client has a command history. Assuming you haven’t remapped the macro, you can press Alt-Up and Alt-Down to cycle through commands you’ve used recently. If you prefer to use different keys for this, create some new macros that use “PrevCommand” and “NextCommand.”

  • When shopping in the Third Dawn client, you can buy the maximum quantity of an item by holding down the Shift key and double-clicking on its listing in the shopping gump instead of sitting there holding down the little “+” button.

  • Open up your options display and switch to the macro editing section in the Third Dawn client. See that gray rectangle to the right of the key entry field? Drag that off the gump and put it on your desktop. You can double-click that icon whenever you want to use that macro. This is especially useful for using skills. You can also re-label that icon by changing the text in the “Name” field of the macro-editing screen before you drag it off.

  • You can create a “Command” macro in the Third Dawn client to execute any command you could enter into the main input field. This includes gestures - just create a Command macro with the parameter `bow. Note: that’s the single quote key on the tilde (~) button. Now drag off the macro icon….

  • The four small boxes to the left of the paperdoll are used to equip and remove small articles of equipment in the ring, necklace, wrist, and ear slots.

  • If you stick several status bars, spell icons, or macro icons together, you can drag the whole mess of them around at once if you hold the Shift key while you do it.
  • Alai
    Lead Client Programmer
    Ultima Online

    Team Comment - Comments from Alai - November 14, 2001

    Click here to see the full-size image of the new armor.

    I wanted to write to let everyone know the status of the wearables overhaul for the Ultima Online 3D client, as well as other matters. Things are progressing well for both the technology implementation, to use the new garb, as well as the new models and textures themselves. So well, in fact, that the technology is complete, as is the first pass of the new art. Now that we have the client executable changes finalized, we’re spending our time doing touch-ups. We’re making good time, and things look extremely promising. Along with this post are some renderings of one of the new armor types taken from in-game which should spell out our excitement.

    Greyburn and the client staff have engineered a system for managing and displaying avatars and their clothes that is brand new and completely different. We pretty much ripped all the old stuff out and replaced it with a new system designed specifically for what we needed it to do. The result is a more expandable and infinitely more flexible wearables engine. Initial indications are that 3D client users will even see a frame rate increase due to the increased efficiency of the new wearables system. Chief amongst our new abilities are ways to render fewer obscured polygons then before. This frees us up to use more polygons in our models without increasing the overall number of polygons rendered on screen. The outcome is better looking avatars and the previously mentioned performance improvement. I should warn you though – since we won’t be continuing to draw layers that aren’t visible, your underwear won’t be drawn underneath your robes; I hope you’re not too shy.

    Our new methodologies also let us create better looking avatars. Clothes are now more form-fitting because we can avoid having to layer wearables on top of each other so much. Robes no longer make you look like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man; dresses are more flattering, and armor shows off your studliness better. We can also swap one version of a shirt with another that is shaped a little different to look better worn under a vest. The art staff is working hard to make sure all the wearables look terrific. They are applying rigorous standards of quality to everything and are working with a high attention to detail. We are checking how every wearable interacts with every other wearable and making sure they all look as good as possible together. We intend to bring the graphical appeal of Ultima Online’s avatars to a better than competitive level with the other available MMORPGs.

    The team on this project is working diligently to get this out in a timely manner. We’re close to a point where we have wearables we *could* ship, but we are making sure these are the wearables we *should* ship – even if a little late. That said, we’re moving back their release date. I’ll tentatively speculate that the wearables may make it out sometime in April – but if we need more time, we are going to take it. We plan to make a significant positive impact on the appearance of UO:3D - and we don’t intend to disappoint. I think you’ll appreciate that we took the time.

    The 3D client will also be getting various other new features. A system to tweak animation speeds has been added and is being used to vastly improve the appearance of many 3D animations. On that note, many other little annoyances with the 3D animation engine have also been addressed. The shadows in the 3D engine have been rewritten to be simple outlines of the model, and look much better. We’ve also added an option to use simple "blob" shadows that are easier on the CPU. Another addition to the 3D client is a system that tweaks settings in the client to try to keep your frame rate up when it drops at the bank.

    Don’t fret - the 2D client isn’t being left behind. Both clients are still getting optimizations and bug fixes on an ongoing basis. Greyburn is back at squishing every party system related bug he can find (we’ll be attacking other systems in a similar fashion in the near future). Additionally, we are finally adding skill icons to the clients that you can drag right off the skill interface and put on your desktop like spell icons. And yes - an option is being added to disable the menu bar for those of you who loathe it.

    As you can see, we’re staying busy. We are still continuing on our ongoing quest to improve the Ultima Online client, and we won’t be stopping soon.

    -- Alai
    Lead Client Programmer, Ultima Online